HMEs skirt ravages of California wildfires

Sunday, November 2, 2003

November 3, 2003

HIGHLAND, Calif. - Ash from the wild fires in Southern California fell all over Palm Medical Drug and Supply one day last week, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

“You can look out the windows, and there are flames leaping everywhere,” said store manager Paul Haislip. “We are dead in the thick of it.”

Fortunately, the Santa Ana winds fueling the fire that consumed more than 3,000 homes blew away from Palm Medical. Some of its patients were not so lucky. “Some of them have already lost their homes,” he said.

Those who did have to evacuate were “real good” about taking oxygen with them. Those who stayed behind sometimes couldn’t get the equipment they needed.

“There are blocked roads everywhere,” said Haislip. “We’ll get an order to deliver, and we can’t get to them. That’s it.”

HMEs contacted in southern California reported booming mask sales last week, arduous delivery routes, light walk-in traffic, but not the kind of breakneck response that characterized HME response to the recent power outage that affected 50 million Americans.

In San Bernadino, Floyd Friess, manager of American Healthcare, was himself breathing heavily on the phone as he reported his company’s response to the wild fires, which were burning three miles away from his location.

“The majority of our 40 oxygen patients are in the mountains, and they are all evacuated,” he said. “Some have escaped to the beach, so we’ve had to make some long distance deliveries.”